An election in one constituency costs around Rs50-100 million, the amount going further up in remote or sensitive areas. For nine constituencies, reportedly around Rs500-900 million will be needed. This excludes security expenses, election staff training, transport costs etc. Given these figures, it belies any economic sense – or sensitivity – for PTI Chairman Imran Khan to contest from all nine National Assembly constituencies that have fallen vacant with the National Assembly speaker accepting resignations from PTI MNAs. The by-elections are set to be held on September 25.
Imran’s decision to contest all nine seats has received a mixed bag of reactions – from being hailed as a ‘masterstroke’ to the obvious raised eyebrows at the hypocrisy of not caring a bit about the expenses that will inevitably occur as any extra seat(s) he wins will have to be recontested. Those who see it as a masterstroke are naturally seeing this as an answer to the PML-N’s strategy of holding by-elections piecemeal: get the NA speaker to accept PTI resignations in batches, hold by-elections, strengthen the PDM position in parliament so that it doesn’t need help from too many allies. That seems to be the going tactic by the PDM combine for now. That is also a clear sign that the government is thinking of completing its term and not of early general elections. Should it strengthen its position sans allies like the MQM and BAP, it stands on far surer footing.
The PTI has seemingly called its bluff. How many times can an already economically beleaguered government hold by-elections? Given the costs involved, how many candidates can return to election mode every few months? While that may be so, there is also the impression that this latest step by the PTI comes from a place of somewhat desperation. Combined with its bizarre step of also challenging the coming by-elections schedule, we are not quite sure where the PTI stands. Does Imran wish to treat all of electoral politics as a game of one-upmanship? And do the people even figure anywhere in this strategic calculus? At the moment, it seems nothing matters more than showing up the PDM government – even if at the cost of the exchequer. This is all the more alarming at a time when the people of the country are truly struggling just to place two square meals on the table. The PML-N has responded with scathing critique of this step, with Rana Sanaullah calling it a ‘political stunt’ merely being used to deflect from the prohibited funding issue.
Meanwhile, there’s the foreign/prohibited funding verdict hanging over the PTI’s head, no matter how loudly the party protests and how many examples it gives of other parties’ funding issues. Article 62 (1) (f) too looms large. Perhaps that’s why the PTI is now preparing to hold (yet another) ‘grand power show’ in Islamabad on the eve of Independence Day. Any doubts that the PML-N is going to sit back and relax are also a misreading since the party has already hinted at legislation that could allow Mian Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan without legal trouble. At the end of it all, electoral politics in the country seems to be just a ruse to either show up a political rival or to get out of a legal pickle. The people win nothing in the face of ‘power shows’ and political opportunism.
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However, the reserved seats issue is somewhat different